Like the adage of judging a book by its cover, trying to guess what a soundbar sounds like from its appearance would likely prove an unsuccessful endeavour, mainly because the vast majority of these linear home cinema speakers all look pretty much the same.
But after clapping eyes and ears on the elegantly built but cumbersomely named Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 Dolby Atmos soundbar for the first time, we can’t help but have a small Catchphrase Roy Walker epiphany of, “Say what you see!” after we realise that this streamlined, minimal and tasteful speaker sounds just as it looks.
The Harmon Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 costs £799 / AU$1199 (around $726), skirting just below the formidable Sonos Arc, which costs £899 / $899 / AU$1499 but can frequently be found for less.
Both soundbars can be expanded to a 5.1.2 system; for the Multibeam 1100, the optional additions include the sizable Citation Sub costing £700 / AU$995 (around $810) or the smaller Harman Kardon Citation Sub S priced £300 / AU$545 (around $347), as well as the Harman Kardon Citation Surround Speakers priced at £400 / AU$795 (around $463) per pair.
The two soundbars have more in common than just their price point. There’s a similarity in design between the three-time What Hi-Fi? Award winner with the Multibeam 1100’s oval profiles and gentle curves.
Like the rest of the Citation series, the Multibeam 1100 is wrapped in Kvadrat wool and available in black or light grey. The two funnel-like ends are open to aid the projection of its side-firing drivers and are linked by a long, thin seam across the front edge, which bears the Harman Kardon logo.
Topping off the Multibeam 1100’s high-end finish is an unexpected hi-res, full-colour touch-sensitive LCD panel. Swiping through its menus and tapping on icons to control connectivity and playback is a lovely user experience. It makes for a straightforward set-up and auto-calibration, which concludes with a top-notch spinning soundbar visual. Unfortunately, the presence of this slick app-like interface on the soundbar comes at the expense of an actual app.
Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 tech specs
Connections eARC, 1 x HDMI, optical
HDMI Passthrough 4K/60fps HDR10+, Dolby Vision
Sound format support Dolby Atmos
Bluetooth? Yes, Bluetooth 5
Streaming AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect,
Voice control Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri
Dimensions (hwd) 6.5 x 115 x 13cm
Harman Kardon’s Citation speakers use Chromecast, Apple Airplay 2 and Alexa MRM for multi-room streaming to promote brand inter-operability, which all makes sense, but not having a proprietary app for easy access to settings feels like a considerable oversight at this price, especially when you’re competing with the likes of Sonos.
The Multibeam 1100 works with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa, but thankfully there is a nubby, small-print remote to control some of the soundbar’s functions. However, with that lovely little screen placed frustratingly out of sight on the top of the soundbar, you have to make do with visual feedback from four tiny white lights on the front face.
Once you know your way around the menu a bit, interpreting these blinking signals becomes more bearable, and in our listening room, the soundbar’s auto-calibration didn’t require too much additional tweaking from us – not that there’s a huge amount of leeway for this. There’s a basic two-band EQ, as well as a voice enhancement mode that uses Harman’s Pure voice technology and a night-time option that reduces that soundbar’s dynamic range to avoid disturbing others.
Inside, the Multibeam 1100 houses 11 drivers in total, comprising six 55 x 90mm racetrack woofers, three 25mm tweeters, and a pair of 70mm up-firing drivers. These use Harman’s MultiBeam technology, which combines angled speaker arrays with digital signal processing to produce a wide range of frequencies with sharp directivity that can be ‘beamed’ off walls and ceilings for a more spacious sound.
All that technology is put to use with Dolby Atmos decoding on board. Harman Kardon doesn’t provide a complete list of supported audio formats for the Multibeam 1100, but there’s no provision for DTS:X, which will disappoint Blu-ray fans. Atmos, however, is provided at three discrete level settings which can be changed by using the remote or top panel and appears to alter the volume of the height drivers.
Next to the remote’s Atmos button is one labelled Surround which toggles the Multibeam 1100’s Smart Surround mode on and off. This setting is enabled by default every time you turn on the soundbar and applies Dolby Surround upmixing to the soundbar’s HDMI eARC TV input. As well as eARC, there’s an optical input and an additional HDMI passthrough to allow users with Blu-ray players, games consoles and streaming sticks to plug directly into the soundbar. This port can handle 4K/60Hz with VRR and HDR support for HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.
Watching Dune in Dolby Atmos on Blu-ray, the Multibeam 1100 puts in a surprisingly potent performance for such a slight soundbar with a considerable amount of volume and bass. It takes a similar tack to the Sonos Arc, slightly sanitising low-frequency sounds beyond its reach.
This results in low rumbles, such as the burrowing sandworm sounding flattened and a little undefined, while the booming percussion lacks a decisive leading edge. Despite these concessions, the Multibeam 1100 rarely sounds like it’s struggling, and no matter how much sub-bass we throw at it, it always feels carefully well-measured.
In the cavernous aircraft hangar scene between Duncan and Paul, the echoes of people and equipment moving around are pleasingly projected on either side of our listening position. Unlike some soundbars, which rely too heavily on wispy high frequencies to create an airy spaciousness, the Multibeam 1100’s surround processing has a welcome solidity.
It helps the effects from the far reaches of the soundstage blend seamlessly with the score that’s more rooted to the front. Of course, it doesn’t recreate the experience of having physical surround speakers, but the Multibeam 1100’s grounded approach provides a striking cinematic experience for a single soundbar.
Dialogue is well presented, with authenticity and warmth, though there’s notably less sparkle and forward throw than the Sonos Arc. Those looking for an extra vocal bump will be pleased to find the Multibeam 1100’s Pure Voice mode offers some of the most tasteful speech enhancement we’ve heard.
Switching to The Batman, we get the opportunity to enjoy the Multibeam 1100’s ability to carefully balance heft with accuracy and definition. It remains coherent and controlled in big chaotic moments, if a little dynamically restrained, allowing details like the perpetually falling rain to be heard amongst the traffic, gunfire and powerful score.
Soundbars rarely deliver musically, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find that the Multibeam 1100 puts in a competent performance when streaming music, in part because it seems to gently smooth-over any jagged edges that typically, soundbars have the unfortunate talent for exaggerating.
Listening to Literary Mind by Sprints, there’s a nice separation and energy to the punk-tinged guitars and screaming vocal amongst the clashing kit and bobbing bass. Rhythmically the Multibeam 1100 is sure-footed, maintaining coherence and detail for an enjoyable listening experience, accompanied by album artwork on the soundbar’s display.
Sophisticated and unobtrusive, with no rough edges but a tad flat, the Multibeam 1100 puts in a sonic performance that mirrors its sleek exterior. Its presentation of Dolby Atmos is spacious but authentic, and musically it’s one of the more enjoyable soundbars we’ve listened to.
It lacks a properly integrated app interface and, compared to the Sonos Arc, is less dazzling with its height effects and vocals, but even if you’re not a Harman Kardon fan, this soundbar deserves to be on your list.
Read our Sonos Arc review
Also consider the Sony HT-A5000
Our pick of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars